Stephen Hopkins Smith, only in his 20’s when he built Hearthside, was one of 11 children born to Benjamin and Mary Tillinghast Smith. The Smith’s, who were Quakers and farmers, lived in a stone-ender house on 249 acres surrounding the area where Hearthside was eventually built. Stephen’s grandmother, Anne Smith, was the granddaughter of John Smith, the miller, one of five who crossed the Seekonk River with Roger Williams on his first landing in Providence.
Following the death of her husband, Anne became the second wife of Governor Stephen Hopkins in 1755, making Stephen the step-grandson of the Governor. Following his education in Providence, Stephen worked for Edward Carrington, a prominent trade merchant.
While building his mansion across from his childhood home in 1812, Stephen also
constructed a stone textile mill and started the Smith Manufacturing Company, later called the Butterfly Mill. His textile business proved unprofitable, however.
After his beloved rejected the mansion he had built for her, Stephen moved into a small cottage nearby, while his siblings enjoyed living at Hearthside for many years.
When plans emerged to build a 45-mile canal to easily transport goods between Providence to Worcester, Stephen enthusiastically embarked on the Blackstone River Canal project, along with business associates Edward Carrington and Moses Brown Ives. He played a critical role in its development, and served as treasurer of the company. Captain Wilbur Kelly was a cargo consignment agent as well as owner of a small mill located along the Canal, reportedly built of the same stone as Smith’s Hearthside.
After the Canal closed in 1848, Stephen went on to manage the Hamlet Mill in Woonsocket, a factory owned by Carrington.
Stephen had a deep love of nature and devoted his leisure time to studying agriculture and gardening. Many of the exotic trees and shrubs he planted on family land known as “Quinsnicket” still survive in what is now Lincoln Woods State Park. His experiments with fertilizer enriched the soil on his land, including the portion that became Chase Farm.
Widely respected in Rhode Island and beyond for his knowledge of agriculture and horticulture, Stephen was an active member of the Society for the Encouragement of Domestic Industry for many years and in 1854 became founding president of the Rhode Island Horticultural Society.
Smith died in 1857 at the age of 74. An obitiuary in the 1858 Transactions of the Rhode Island Society for the Encouragement of Domestic Industry reads: “Many men of larger mental development, more honored with office and more favored of fortune than Stephen Hopkins Smith, have gone down to the grave; yet there are few...who could compare with him in warmth and affection, benignity of disposition or genuine goodness of heart.”
Stephen Hopkins Smith is buried in the cemetery at the Saylesville Friends Meeting House, the place of his worship, just a short distance away from Hearthside on Great Road.